Cablegate: Huge Transnet Losses Forecast Sell-Off of State

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A



(U) Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect
accordingly. Not for Internet distribution.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Transnet's Annual Report revealed a
bloated, inefficient and undisciplined state-owned
enterprise (SOE) that suffered a R6.3 billion loss last
year. CEO Maria Ramos plans to divest all non-core
businesses and focus on providing integrated, seamless
transport and logistics services. Spoornet, National
Ports Authority (NPA), South Africa Port Operations
(SAPO) and Petronet will remain in the Transnet fold.
All other operations, including SAA, will be housed in an
investment portfolio for potential future sale or
disinvestment. This indicates that, despite perceptions
to the contrary, and in the face of stiff opposition from
labor, government has not backtracked on divestiture of
non-core or non-strategic assets. In addition, Public
Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin replaced the entire Board
of Directors at Transnet and most of the Board at SAA.


2. (U) Just eight months after taking over as CEO of
Transnet, Maria Ramos has proposed major changes to
improve the efficiency and profitability of the behemoth
state-owned enterprise that manages the country's
transport services. As the former Director General for
National Treasury, Ramos established a reputation for her
business-like, no-nonsense approach to government. She
was instrumental in creating and implementing South
Africa's sound fiscal policy resulting in lower inflation
and interest rates and less government debt. In
Transnet's 2003-2004 Annual Report, released August 27,
Ramos paints a picture of a bloated, inefficient state-
owned enterprise (SOE). Ramos said that "Transnet has
shown an increasing inability to respond to the demands
of its business environment" and she made it clear that a
significant restructuring of Transnet resources is about
to occur.


3. (U) Transnet reported a net loss of R6.3 billion for
the year ended March 30, 2004 from a R421 million loss in
the same period a year ago. The loss was due mainly to a
R4.2 billion impairment charge, which includes a R3.5
billion write-down of aircraft and a R526 million write-
down of Transnet's investment in the Second National
Operator (SNO). The Transnet Group delivered revenue
growth of only 5.7 percent (from R41.3 billion to R43.6
billion), well below the average annual growth of 14
percent achieved over the previous three years, and also
below the 2003 inflation figure (CPIX) of 6.8 percent.
Operating profit declined from R5.1 billion last year to
R187 million this year. A major factor in Trasnet's
dismal financial results was South African Airways (SAA)
hedging loss of R8.7 billion last year. Over the past
two years, SAA has reported losses totaling R15 billion.
The losses result from hedges SAA made on the dollar-to-
rand exchange rate after it purchased 38 new Airbus
aircraft in 2002. The deal was based in U.S. dollars.


4. (U) To reverse Transnet's slide into financial
oblivion, Ramos unveiled a new strategy. She said that
Transnet's core mission is "to provide an integrated,
seamless transport and logistics solution." To
accomplish this, Ramos announced that she would keep
Spoornet, the NPA, SAPO, and Petronet at Transnet. All
other operations, including SAA, will be housed in an
investment portfolio for potential future sale or
disinvestment (Reftel A). Ramos also said that
Transnet's corporate office would be drastically trimmed.
The corporate office employs nearly 700 staff and
incurred costs of more than R600 million last year.
Transnet sources say that the corporate office staff will
be reduced to about seventy people.
5. (U) Ramos revealed that Transnet's strategy going
forward is based on the following 4-point plan: a)
"redirect the business" to focus on core operations; b)
"restructure the balance sheet" by eliminating
outstanding debt and non-core businesses; c) "implement
and adopt strict corporate governance principles" to
overcome existing gaps in Trasnet's financial management
processes; and 4) "adhere to a vigilant risk management
process" to avoid risk-laden ventures such as SAA's hedge
book. To assist in the implementation of this strategy,
Ramos has earmarked R30 billion for capital investment
over the next five years.


6. (U) Among the few bright spots in the report were the
NPA, with an 18 percent improvement in operating profit,
SAPO, which exceeded its planned operating profit by 9
percent, and Petronet, which doubled its profit before
tax to R240 million over last year. Ramos pointed out
that these companies "collectively generate acceptable
profitability levels," further underscoring Ramos'
strategy to hold on to these operations.


7. (U) Minister of Public Enterprises Alec Erwin also
announced the replacement of the entire Board of
Directors for Transnet and most of the Board at SAA.
Frederik Phaswana, formerly Chairman and CEO of BP
Southern Africa, takes over as Chairman of the Transnet
Board. Khaya Ngqula leaves his position as President and
CEO at the Industrial Development Corporation of South
Africa to become the new CEO at SAA.


8. (SBU) The annual report shows government supports
Ramos in her plans to reshape Transnet. It also
indicates that, despite perceptions to the contrary, and
in the face of stiff opposition from labor, government
has not backtracked on divestiture of non-core or non-
strategic assets. Public Private Partnerships, including
concessions, will be a vital element of the new business


© Scoop Media

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